Freedom News

An open letter to tourists in Bali

The following texts are from a zine  Poster and Protester: Propagila’s Protest Posters of “Bali Social Movement to Reject the Reclamation of Benoa Bay”, published by HC/Punk Collective in Bali Denpasar Kolektif in April 2019. All artwork is from Gilang Propagila: an illustrator and graphic designer based in Bali, Indonesia. Most of his artwork is influenced by Hardcore Punk scene and the dynamics of activism in Bali. Gilang is part of the Denpasar Kolektif, and began to focus on making hc / punk gigs flyers since 2010. Currently Gilang is also active in Bali Tolak Reklamasi Movement: Bali Social Movement to Reject Reclamation of Benoa Bay, and he is often making a protest posters for demonstrations action in Bali.

Bali. The morning of the world. A tropical island paradise. A place without cares or worries, where, for a short time, you can do yoga, surf, pray in temples, and see another culture without ever having to confront nasty things like the date rent is due back home. This is the Bali of tourists. It’s not a bad Bali really, or even necessarily a “less authentic Bali”, but it is an incomplete Bali. It is a Bali that by its very nature erases the complexities of Balinese lives and hides the whole picture– all the messy, political things that make Bali the island that it is. Despite popular belief, there are structural issues in Bali that are affecting people across the island. Working to address those problems is a widespread social and environmental movement, a nonviolent struggle for home, called Tolak Reklamasi Teluk Benoa, or in English, “Reject the Reclamation of Benoa Bay.”

Bali is currently experiencing a massive wave of development, a huge expansion in the number of tourists visiting Bali, and a corresponding infux of both resorts and hotels designed to attract and support those tourists. This phenomenon has helped Bali in some ways: most people, especially on the southern end of the island, rely on tourists for their livelihoods, and the interest in Bali as a vacation destination has brought wealth and economic growth to the island.

The recent explosion of tourism has not been unremittingly good, however, and if you’ve been in Bali, you may have even seen some of the negative effects. Lack of access to clean water, litter in the streets, trash in the sewage system, air pollution from the high volume of vehicles, serious traffic jams, loss of local businesses, and the rippling effects of environmental issues are some of the less attractive results of the growth in tourism. Of course, thanks to the visitors, the island is thriving economically, so there is a push by both Indonesian government offcials and private development companies to continue massive development projects with little regard to mitigating some of the more negative impacts of quick growth.

“Reject The Changes To The Benoa Bay Area That Make It Into A Public Utilization Area
That Can Be Reclaimed”

One such pivotal mega-development project is proposed for Benoa Bay at the southern end of the island. The tourism destination would gobble up about 700 hectares of open water, dumping tons of soil in the center of the bay to make an artificial island complex. The vision for the project is the creation of a Disney-fied version of Bali, complete with shops, apartments, and even theme parks for ultra- wealthy tourists to be isolated from some of the discomforts of the island, like litter and traffic, while still “seeing Bali”.

The project is termed a “reclamation” in government-speak and a “revitalization” in the news releases of PT Tirta Wahana Bali Internasional (TWBI), the company trying to develop Benoa. Investors use terms like “reclamation” and “revitalization” in hopes that the bay will become a honey pot of wealth for the Bali tourism market. TWBI also claims that their project will clean up the environment of the area and respect Balinese traditions, and therefore is Benoa’s best hope for the future. But, as Bali Tolak Reklamasi supporter and member of the popular band Nosstress, Kupit, puts it “I don’t think so. Because here in Bali there is problems about sampah [trash] everywhere, and I think that is just the how the government makes a reason to do the reclamation. Yeah, the bay there is dirty, but there is a better way to make it clean without the reclamation”.

“Struggling And Joyful. Benoa Bay Must Win”

Presently the shores of Benoa Bay are home to many communities, sacred Hindu sites, and mangrove forests, and the bay serves as an important source of livelihood for the people in that area. Any so-called “reclamation” that occurs in Benoa Bay will have lasting negative impacts on those communities. According to the 2013 government commissioned feasibility study and later cabinet meeting discussions conducted by Udayana University, the proposed development is not a feasible project due to its likely effects on the ecology of Benoa Bay.

In agreement with this report are WALHI (Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia, in English “The Indonesian Forum for the Environment), the largest environmental NGO in Indonesia, and ForBALI (Forum Rakyat Bali Tolak Reklamasi or in English, “The Balinese People’s Forum Against the Reclamation”, the organizer for the Tolak Reklamasi movement. They predict that the planned island complex would raise the water levels of the low-tide estuary bay, meaning that the four rivers that currently flow into Benoa Bay would instead flood the southern area of Bali, especially locations below sea level. The result of that, on a practical level, would be that people who live near Benoa Bay would lose their homes, and most of the temples and mangroves there would disappear under the water.

“Reject The Changes To The Benoa Bay Area That Make It Into A Public Utilization Area
That Can Be Reclaimed “

Nearby resident of Benoa Bay, Kadek Bobby Susila, has been involved with the Bali Tolak Reklamasi environmental movement from the beginning, and “protest[s] because my home is by the mangrove forests with the bay, and if the bay floods, we have nowhere to go. What then?” In fact, flooding in his village at the beginning of June 2017 due to rainfall made the threat of rampant sea level rise even more clear to him: “Only [a] few days of rain did that, so what will the reklamasi do?”

To save their home, Bali Tolak Reklamasi, or “Reject the Reclamation [of Benoa Bay] movement,” is resisting the proposed mega-project. ForBALI organize regular rallies, demonstrations on the streets, art event, concerts that include bands ranging from Hardcore Punk to Folk Music, and social media campaigns in order to keep the issue alive and on the minds of young people especially. The movement, on-going since 2013, is concentrating its efforts on the campaign to Batalkan Perpres No. 51 Tahun 2014, or “Overturn Presidential Order Number 51 from 2014,” the order that changed Benoa Bay’s official status as a protected conservation zone into an area open for development, clearing the way for the mega-project to begin.

Repealing that presidential order would be a huge step in the direction of stopping the Benoa Bay reclamation, and people from all across Bali participate in the effort, writing music and planning events. Indeed, if you’ve been anywhere in Bali in the last four years you’ve probably seen it: white flags with ForBALI emblazoned across them, Bali Tolak Reklamasi billboards posted at street corners, and festive gatherings of people in temple wear and Bali Tolak Reklamasi shirts. According to Jerinx, a member of the popular punk band Superman Is Dead and one of the loudest proponents of Bali Tolak Reklamasi, “the movement is only getting stronger in Bali, because people don’t want those problems to spread”.

Boiled down to its simplest form, Bali Tolak Reklamasi is a group of people struggling to keep their home safe from the power of money and industry. To be clear, they are not fighting against tourism or against visitors coming to see and enjoy Bali. As Made Mawut, a Bali Tolak Reklamasi supporter, and a blues musician, put it, “There is nothing wrong with tourists; everyone wants to do holiday. It’s when they mix everything with the greed [from investors] that it becomes bad, because greed will [try to] win anything”.

Bali Tolak Reklamasi is standing up to a political culture more focused on making money than preserving Indonesia and keeping Bali beautiful and safe for future generations. Though the Indonesian government has tried to slow the movement, shutting down protests and forums and banning people from wearing Bali Tolak Reklamasishirts at rallies, the movement is far from over, and Bali Tolak Reklamasi activists continue to peacefully pursue their goals. So the next time you’re cruising down the streets of Ubud and see a massive ForBALI flag flapping above the asphalt, or enjoying the day in Kuta and see a Bali Tolak Reklamasi poster at a crossroads, recognize that what you see is not just a statement of support. It is a hope that has grown across Bali, a prayer for the future of the island, for home, and for truth.

SJ Dillon

From the beginning of the planning for the reclamation project in Benoa Bay, nothing was done fairly and justly. The investors decided to pursue the project without involving the surrounding community. They also covered up the information related to the project, so the people that would be affected by it didn’t know anything about it. People were only aware of the project about six or seven months after the authorizing Decree had been signed by the Governor of Bali. The governor even refused to admit that he permitted the decree, and continued with a stance that supported the reclamation of Benoa Bay.

Further, the purpose of the reclamation project is to increase the tourism industry, which is not needed by Bali. Bali is already very crowded by the tourism industry, and the addition of these accommodations would increase the burden of environmental damage and social issues in Bali. Moreover, the reclamation project is planned to be built in a bay which has conservation value and actually plays a role in maintaining the natural balance in Bali, especially South Bali. Based on the results of research, Benoa Bay is also a sacred area for Balinese that cannot be destroyed. Considering all the arguments, a 700 hectare reclamation project in Benoa Bay has the potential to create a much bigger net negative impact in Bali rather than net positive impact.

“Fight The Conspiracy! Reject The Reclamation Project!”

In 2014, when many people were starting to refuse the reclamation of Benoa Bay, President SBY (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) passed his Presidential Regulation 51 of 2014, which changed the status of Benoa Bay from a conservation area into an area fit for reclamation. The Presidential Regulation made the reclamation plan in Benoa Bay easier. But, his cavalier treatment of Bali actually increased the amount of people who resist the reclamation of Benoa Bay. Many people joined the movement with ForBALI; Bali People’s Forum to Refuse Benoa Bay Reclamation. They contribute according to their ability and their respective roles based on their professional and personal activities.

In their own workplaces, neighborhoods, community, in the real and virtual world, people keep sharing information so that more and more people know and care about this struggle. The people save money and donate to this movement, because our movement are built on the spirit of “gotong royong”; mutual cooperation. Do it your self and do it with your friends. They also spend their time participating in demonstrations and other related activism campaigns. Although getting a lot of pressure and intimidation, this movement going bigger, braver, and stronger.

We realize something is wrong, that the world is not fine, and that most of us have been or are waiting in line to become the victim. How do we respond? Yes, through facing it. Live your life and be brave in facing problems. We need to begin to empowering ourselves and the communities around us. We need to build solidarity, maximize our opportunities,maintainandsharethespirit. It’sallprettysimplereally; there’s nothing grandiose and no complicated idealism, theories or philosophy about it. Everything can be done with the foundation of friendship because FRIENDSHIP IS THE KEY!

Gilang Propagila

Some photos from protests in Bali:

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